Unscheduled stops are part of travelling.
We’ve stopped to let trains race past. Endured lengthy delays from border control officers, and we’ve definitely had to stop for motorway congestion. But at no time before have we ever stopped to let a passenger plane touch down in front of our windscreen.
As far as first impressions go, the speeding tail of an Airbus thundering past our eyes told us Gibraltar was going to be different.
For 300 years, the 2.6 sq mi. peninsula at the entrance to the Med, has served as a strategic outpost for British Rule; but this no mini Britain. Within its border lies a cultural dichotomy: Bobbies, in British uniforms converse in Spanish amongst each other, traffic adheres to the same rules as Continental Europe and drives on the right, and it’s possible to procure souvenirs in three different currencies: Stirling, Euros, and Gibraltar Pounds – perhaps reflective of the Territories rich history of vanquishment.
Yet this trip wasn’t about purchasing tacky I *heart* Gibraltar T – shirts, or models of The Rock’s magnificent limestone precipice. There were more pressing matters on our agenda, notably, that the kids wanted to meet up with their distant Gibraltarian cousins on their dad’s side: The Barbary Apes.
Introduced from Africa at the time of the Moorish conquest (711 – 1462) the Apes, though actually tail-less monkeys, have resided over this side of the strait and are classified as the only troop of wild primates in Europe.
A trip to Gibraltar wouldn’t be complete without a visit to see the rellies.
That was until we discovered the entry fee to the national park was €35.
As budget conscious travellers we’re good like that: we build up our boys’ curiosity and fuel their interest before retracting any likelihood of proceeding, on account of cost.
As we neared the entrance to the park I broke the news: “The price guys,” I said, pointing to the park’s sign, “it’s too much. Remember, we’re on a strict financial plan. We have to be disciplined..!”
This of course was true, but how can you deny your kids the opportunity of a lifetime? Well, it’s actually not that hard. Just say no and walk away.
Which is when it happened.
It was Dylan who spotted them first. “Hey look!” he yelled in a state of animation, “A monkey.” Of course, I didn’t look because I thought it was a game of payback, for making him walk so far. But, as was instantly validated by all remaining family members, a real monkey had popped its head above the trees, before disappearing out of sight.
I’d missed out.
Yet as we stood looking up into the park’s foliage another appeared, then another.. Soon there were five curious macaque monkeys climbing down to rekindle old family ties. We were back together again.
In a lot of ways it was just a normal family reunion: I made primordial grunting noises and jumped about with my hands under my armpits, beating my chest every so often. They yawned and looked morbidly bored, before turning around, and walking off.
“Honestly” I questioned, “we’ve come all this to be treated like that! No wonder we don’t keep in touch.”
But judging by the smiles on our boys’ faces it had all been worth it, and it was free.
Which made the parents’ smile, too!